The Piano

The Piano

The Path

The feeling of the brisk air on his face, the sound of the wind shaking leaves from the trees, and the smell of pine in the woods on a beautiful sunny fall day all combined together did absolutely nothing to offset the feeling of utter loss Joe had experienced just a few short weeks ago.

As a man, Joe was taught that you were supposed to be the strong one. The one everyone leans on. He was not expected to feel loss, pain, or even suffer like his wife when a miscarriage occurred. And while it’s true that the experience is not the same, it doesn’t mean that a man, like Joe, could simply move on or ‘get over it.’

And when he found out that it was much, much worse than a miscarriage, that it was a trauma of such magnitude that children were not even a possibility anymore, Joe’s world fell apart.

He fell to his knees.

He actually broke.

But we all heal.

Scars cover the wounds.

And after time passes a man, such as Joe, begins to feel something besides pain and sorrow again. Every now and then he laughed. But immediately he felt guilty as he realized the enormity of what was lost.

It’s not just the loss of a child, but the loss of the entire future imagined ahead of him, his wife and the child, and the child Joe and his wife named Joy.

She was actually going to be named Joy. The irony left Joe and his wife with sorrow instead.

It wasn’t long before well-meaning people started saying, “You can always adopt.” Trying to give hope for building the family they had planned and talked about for several years. And while they could have done so, and it would have been wonderful, the thing they were ignoring was what was lost.

You see, Joe got to hold Joy in his arms on the day she was born. He stayed up with her at night when his wife was too tired. He watched her first steps. Made her laugh uncontrollably. Joy would run to Joe when she was scared in the middle of the night because monsters lurked under the bed, in the closet, or in the shadows. She would fall asleep in his arms after a long day of playing, laughing, and exploring the outdoors. Joe would carry her from his parent’s house to the car as her head lolled to one side completely oblivious to the world; trusting so completely that she never stirred. And when he tucked her in at night, she’d would curl up on her side and softly snore as she tightly hugged her favorite bunny doll next to her.

His wife stayed at home with Joy taking time out from her home business to play, cook, dress up, draw, sing, dance, and learn. They’d have entire performances ready for Joe to watch after he’d get back from a long day at the office.

Their inevitable trip to Disney World when she turned six was miraculous. Watching her wide-eyed amazement of all the movie characters come to life was sheer happiness for Joe and his wife.

Her first school dance. Her first heartbreak. Her first solo. Her graduation. Her acceptance to college. Her first big job in her chosen career. Her husband. Her first born.

Joy was a dancer and an actress and a scientist and a mother.

But none of it happened. None of it would happen.

It was all gone.

Other people just didn’t get it.

They didn’t understand what was lost.

Joe and his wife didn’t talk about it either. Probably not the best approach, but they knew they’d just break down. Joe and his wife stayed focused on what they could do in front of them each day and tried to take the time to just heal. They spoke to their pastor and found some solace in their faith, even if not understanding God’s plan. They believed there was a purpose. There had to be.

But sometimes, a man has to break away and step out of his life for a time to just get some perspective. Perhaps even some enlightenment elsewhere to be free of his daily routine that keeps him locked into his feelings and his loss.

Joe had been strong. But he needed to not be. So Joe arranged for his wife’s sister to take her away for a few days to break her out of her daily rituals and Joe planned to do so for himself. Luckily, his wife silently understood. She knew Joe needed to grieve as much as she had to.

And so, he found himself hiking in the woods, passing other hikers who smiled and commented, “Beautiful day for a hike, isn’t it?” Joe would smile back and say, “Amazing!” or some such thing until they passed and he could let his happy visage slip away.

His trip to the woods was on a day after several weeks of cold wet weather. But the trails had dried up enough for hiking and they were packed with people from town ready for some sunshine. It was one of the reasons Joe chose this as his escape from reality as well.

But there were too many people. He grew weary of the pleasantries and decided to go off the trail and create his own path in the woods.

The Cliff

Joe must have just gone into auto pilot as he plunged headlong into the woods. One foot in front of the other. Mechanical. Methodical. Meditative.

The woods, usually fairly spacious, started to close in with a lot more underbrush than Joe ever remember. Where there weren’t underbrush, there were huge boulders. He had to slow down and consider his footsteps more carefully.

As he moved through the underbrush, he looked up for a moment and noticed the sun was reaching the noon hour and clouds were coming together. As he did, he managed to step into a leafy patch that had nothing beneath.

His left foot rolled sideways and Joe felt tendons pop. Keeping his wits about him, he tried to roll to the left to keep his foot from slipping down further and possibly breaking. Unfortunately, a large boulder was all that he had to catch himself. He missed with his hand and, instead, hit the boulder hard with the left forearm and raked it down across it before finally hitting the ground.

Pain and fire shot across his arm, which he was sure was not broken, but definitely scraped and bruised – perhaps even lacerated. He quickly freed his foot from the hole he’d slipped into. He could move his toes, but the ankle was definitely sprained and swelling.

Joe laid there for a while, cursed a bit, and yelled in frustration a little more than he’d admit to others later. It was like he had to let out some primal screaming with the hell he’d been through – they both had been through.

It felt good. So still laying on his back, he screamed again. He screamed until his throat was raw.

The pain, sorrow, and loss were still there, however.

It didn’t vanish.

He didn’t know how long he had laid there screaming. He started to wonder if someone had heard him and grew concerned that someone may think he was in real trouble and needed help.

Slowly Joe sat up and took stock of his condition.

Besides his throat being sore, and his abs aching from the spasms of crying, he rolled up his left sleeve to find that his arm was pretty scraped up and a little bloody. He could twist his arm, flex his fingers and no blood was gushing out, just really bruised and battered. It wasn’t broken or fractured and definitely still usable.

Joe’s foot, however, was a little different. As he removed his hiking boot, and rolled off his sock, Joe found the ankle to be crazy swollen and the side of his foot, where he felt the tendons pop, were bruised and swollen as well.

‘Great.’

Sitting there, he again flexed his foot and wiggled his toes, all without any serious pain. While the foot was throbbing, there was no piercing pain. He thought that was good and counted his blessings.

Slowly, Joe rolled his sock back on and put his boot back on which caused some discomfort. He then laced up the boot tight and tried standing up.

‘THERE’S the pain!’ Joe thought as it shot from the whole foot up to his brain.

He quickly used the boulder for balance (instead of a cheese grater this time). Joe put a little weight on his foot and it was a little less painful. He took some time to take some short steps, and it got even a little better. The problem now was that he was a little off balance.

Looking around, Joe found a wood of some weight, length and strength and started using it as a walking stick.

Before moving on, however, Joe sat on the boulder and broke out his pack to clean up his bloody arm. While there, he also took a short lunch break and considered how he would proceed with his hike from here on out.

With the weather still nice, but cloudy, Joe decided to keep hiking. He hadn’t been to this part of the woods and was interested in what may lay ahead.

With his arm cleaned up, foot taking his weight, and pack all stowed, Joe grabbed his new walking stick and made his way through the brush which was still surprisingly dense.

The wind started to kick up and he could hear the sound of water flowing ahead. After some time and effort, the brush started to thin to the point where he just had to duck and dodge a few branches.

With just a few steps more, there was a sudden break in the tree line and a huge outcropping of stone lay ahead. Joe stepped out from the tree line and saw it was a rocky ledge overlooking a valley with a small river that flowed below – the source of the water sound he had heard.

Joe stepped closer to the cliff to get a better view just as the sun broke free of the clouds and shined a beam down upon the valley. It was glorious. All the pain and suffering of the hike made this moment especially fantastic to see.

Finally having a bit of a good feeling was nice, but as always, it didn’t last long.The guilt kicked in. Joe dropped his shoulders and slumped. His head dropped  looking straight down. When he did, he got a bit of the vertigo feeling and started to step back from the ledge. But just then, a thought hit him, ‘Why not just fall?’ Why not let go of all this pain and move on?

But Joe stepped back from the ledge suddenly and reflected, ‘What if I didn’t die and just ended up paralyzed? My wife would have to take care of me the rest of our lives… if she even would after everything else.’

Joe sat down and stared at the view.

There were no sounds now but the wind above and water below. No traffic from the trails. No highway noise. No planes. Joe was surprised there were no trails to this spot with such an amazing view.

He pulled his pack off and laid back on it using it as a pillow and stared into the sky.

After some time, he noticed two eagles played on the currents of wind nearly directly above where he lay. They seemed to just hang above him in the air at times as the wind was so strong and steady. He wondered what it would be like to fly on the currents of the wind. He wondered if these events were simply currents that needed to be coasted upon instead of fighting against them. The eagles didn’t fight. They soared.

Joe’s mind cleared. He stayed in the moment watching the eagles.

He listened to the water that flowed in the valley below.

He drifted into sleep.

The Dischord

Joe woke with the sound of music.

It must have been a dream. As he sat up, there was nothing but wind and the water nearby. The eagles had flown away. And the sun, still behind the clouds, was definitely lower than it had been when he nodded off.

Joe tried to remember what music was he dreaming about.

Getting up from his nap, he adjusted his pack over his shoulders and used his walking stick to stand up. Once again, the pain in his foot was jarring, but the more he moved around, the less it hurt.

He turned to gain his bearings and decided he should probably head back and that an overnight in the woods with the injuries he had may not be the best idea. While he had brought a tent along, he thought it might also be too cold in his present condition to sleep well.

Joe noticed that he had come through the trees a little further from the top of a ridge that the rocky outcropping and cliff seemed to run up to. He decided to go higher, walk along the ridge and head back to the trails and, eventually, his car.

As he he made his way heading up the ridge, over the shuffling of his feet and the other sounds of the woods, Joe heard a single noise that sounded like a piano key. A single high note coming from the woods.

He paused for a few moments, but the sound never returned.

He shrugged it off and continued up to the ridge.

As he approached the top, he turned and headed into the woods again. ‘It’s only mid afternoon and I still have plenty of time before dark,’ he thought to himself.

It was just as he entered the tree line into the rustling leaves, that Joe  heard another musical note. This one was lower than the first. It repeated several times before only the sounds of the wind in the trees returned..

Joe turned around several times listening for the sound to return and to try to get a bearing on where it was coming from. “Once? I’m imagining. Twice? I could be hallucinating.”

The music returned. A few ethereal notes played together floating gracefully and harmoniously through the trees. And then they stopped.

Joe locked in on the music and it was coming from straight ahead just over the rise. “It has to be coming from there.”

He limped and hurried as fast as his bruised and swollen foot would carry him.

Muted and rich deep sustained tones now carried on the wind drawing him ever closer to the source of the music.

But as Joe reached the crest of the ridge, he tripped and went tumbling head over heels down the other side hitting rocks and sticks along way down. Piles of leaves came sliding down with him as he skidded down the hillside. After what felt like forever to Joe, he came to a sudden and jarring halt as his his head hit the base of a tree with a sickening thud.

“SON OF A …. OWWWWWW!” he shouted face down into the leaves that had tumbled down the hill with him and under him.

Joe slowly rolled onto his side and managed to open his eyes to get his bearings as dizziness engulfed him and fire lanced across his chest from where, he knew, ribs had been broken.

Something warm and wet flowed down his forehead and into his right eye. He wiped his hand across his face and discovered it was now covered in blood.

Slowly sitting up, and as his vision cleared, Joe saw something that his brain wouldn’t let him believe was really there.

There, in the middle of the woods, in a very small clearing, was a grand piano. A squirrel sat on a few keys with a pecan in its paws. It gnawed on the nut and then tried to bash it against one of the keys making a repetitive plinking sound. The nut broke, and the squirrel shoved it in his mouth and leaped off the keys, landing on the lid, and scurrying across the back side finally leaping into and up a tree.

While Joe’s first thought was, ‘Oh, the squirrel was playing the music,’ his second thought – which should have been the first thought – was, ‘Why the hell is there a grand piano in the middle of the woods?!’

Dizzily, Joe struggled to his feet. He definitely bruised his back and side in several places, cracked his head, ribs (not broken, but hurt enough that it was hard to breathe), and discovered that his knee cap was also in considerable pain. But that was all overshadowed by the discovery of the piano.

Joe thought it was weird enough that the piano was there in the first place, but what was even more odd is that it looked nearly brand new with no weathering at all. There was no way anyone could have put it here. There were no trails. And although this was a clearing, the trees surrounding it would not have allowed for any kind of vehicle to bring it here, especially without leaving ruts or some kind of mark in the dirt.

‘I suppose a helicopter could have lowered it here,’ Joe said to himself looking up past the trees. But he shook his head as he realized the stupidity of the comment.

There was also a piano bench.

‘Why wouldn’t there be one?’

Joe hobbled over to the piano, a little scared, a little in wonder, and a little confused. He pulled the bench out and decided to lift the lid. There, inside, was a single piece of sheet music.

Joe picked it up and stared at it. The color drained from his face and he dropped the walking stick and grabbed the piano as if the world had started to shift beneath him.

He didn’t exactly sit on the piano bench, but rather fell onto it perfectly seated and still clutching the music in one hand and the piano with the other. His eyes never left the sheet music.

Slowly, he put the music on the stand, already propped up ready for the sheet to be placed there. Tears welled up in his eyes as he shakily placed his right hand on the piano keyboard, only remembering a few parts of music from his high school days, but enough to know a basic scale. In a steady rhythm, he looked at the first two notes, he recognized, were on the treble clef and an E on the scale. From there he ascended one key to F and then G. Repeating G, then down to F, then E, then D and finally landing on C twice before progressing back up to D, E and repeating E but holding a slight bit longer before briefly hitting the D key and then hitting it again.

Joe leaned back holding the last note for a moment before letting go of the note and staring a the keyboard for several minutes.

He looked around the woods, but no one was there. Not even the squirrel that had been there earlier was still around.

Joe looked back at the sheet music.

It was Beethoven’s piece, Ode to Joy.

The Melody

Joe sat staring at the sheet music for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that the sun had started to set. And yet, Joe sat staring.

“I’m dreaming. This is a dream,” was a recurring thought that was accompanied by a numbness that felt akin to being drunk, stoned, or otherwise isolated from all outside thought other than what was right in front of a person.

Finally, Joe stood as if in a trance.

He gathered wood, cleared a space near the piano, and started a fire in a ring of stones he had painfully moved to the clearing. He unpacked his tent and set it up, hammering in anchor pegs, and unrolled his thermal sleeping bag. From time to time, he would stop, turn, and stare at the piano and the sheet music that never moved, even though a breeze would kick up from time to time strong enough to move leaves on the ground. But the sheet music never fluttered.

Night fell and Joe cooked food on the fire, constantly staring at the piano and the music. The fire illuminated and danced across the finely polished surface of the piano’s housing.

As the darkness of the forest enveloped his campsite, Joe slowly retired to the tent for the night, his eyes never wandering too far from the oddity that lay before him. His mind never wandered either. Nor did it wonder. It simply fixated on the music of Beethoven and the piano that existed where it should not.

The wind had died down and the only sound was the crackling of the fire.

As Joe slipped into slumber, he realized he no longer felt the pain he had in his body. The emotional pain was gone as well. There, in the silence and tranquility of the forest, something seen and unseen was moving about him. He didn’t understand why. Just that it was.

While the fire kept Joe warm, he dreamed of his wife and of Joy. Of days in the park. Of days of conflict. Of days of laughter. Of days of sadness. He dreamed of how he and his wife had come together and created this being of light who never got to shine, and yet affected them so deeply and forever.

Finally, Joe dreamed of standing on the cliff that he had slept upon the day before. Joy was by his side holding his hand. She appeared to be a young girl of ten. He could remember all ten years of their time together. And none of it.

He looked down as she looked up at him, smiling taking his hand.

“You didn’t lose me, daddy. I’ll be with you forever. Besides, I would have tortured you as a teenager.”

“You would have been perfect,” Joe said to her. She smiled.

“I have to go. It will be okay.”

“I know. But it’s hard.”

“You’ll know when it’s easy because of this moment,” she squeezed his hand.

“I know.”

Joy turned to Joe and he lifted her into his arms and hugged her hard in an embrace that he hoped he would never forget. An embrace of warmth, connection, and love.

She kissed him on the cheek and said, “I love you, daddy.”

“I love you too. You have fun, okay? Maybe I’ll see you again someday,” Joe said to her as he set her down.

“You will.”

Joy smiled and started skipping and dancing away. The wind picked up and it appeared to take her away and she dissolved into the sky as Joe watched.

Joe woke at peace, but still sad.

He slowly sat up, sore, bruised, battered, and yet, a feeling of acceptance. He was, by no means, over his loss. But the visions, dreams and strange occurrence in the forest gave him some peace.

As he opened his tent, he was not at all surprised that the piano, bench and music were gone from the clearing. No sign of it existed. Not even an indention in the ground. He accepted the experience as it was without any question.

Joe slowly packed up his campsite, strapped it all on his back, grabbed his walking stick, took a last look at the clearing, turned away, and headed home.

The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet,
excerpt from On Joy and Sorrow

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find
it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board,
remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,
needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Author’s Note

I love stories with a twist. And I also love finding weird occurrences in the world. This story was inspired by a news article in 2008 about a woman in Harwich, Massachusetts who came across a new piano fully tuned in the woods while on a trail and no idea how it got there.

But a weird news story is not a story. You have to have a human connection. Someone to travel with to experience the strange event. And it has to have some meaning or why make a story.

I wrote this story shortly after a series of losses that occurred closely together. Loosing both uncles on each side of my family (my dad’s brother and my mom’s brother) in the same year was more difficult than I care to admit. My mother died nearly twenty years ago. A member of our spiritual community also died in an accident. It brought up lots of memories.

I used the words of Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet in my own mother’s eulogy and have gone back to the text many times.

The point of the story, of course, is loss and hope and how part of our existence is filled with duality and extremes. I hope you all realize that even the worst experiences in life give us the contrast for the best experiences that life has to offer.

Ode to Joy

If you’re not familiar with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, here is a magnificent flash mob that builds and builds and builds. I like that this version is triggered when a little girl throws a few coins into a hat and stands there and watches the whole performance completely transfixed, but disappears at the final crescendo and final notes.

She also appears to be about 10 years old.

Coincidence?

© 2017 Eric Huber. The Piano is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Photo from Unsplash.com photographer Ryan Holloway of https://unsplash.com/@hollowaykryan

Palingenesis

Palingenesis

SYSTEMS CHECK

“Ground Command, this is Leo Station. Ground, Leo. Over. Ground Command, this is Leo Station. Do you read? Over.” Commander Su’e Inana finished her daily call to Ground Command for the 393rd day without response. Only occasional static was ever returned and the monitor screen continually displayed ‘no signal.’

She gave a slight sigh as she finished her broadcast and then turned to her duties to ensure the integrity of Leo Station. The station was located on the solitary natural satellite that orbited around her home world of Egom. They named it, Naan. There was no atmosphere on Naan and it had taken her people many decades to develop the technology to reach such heights after seeing it in the skies for millennia. A network of stations had been planned to spread across the surface and beneath, but due to various political and global situations, once the Naan had been reached, plans for expansion were delayed.

Su’e started, as always, by reviewing all of the command center’s various monitors, systems and readouts before taking a quick glance at the exterior of the station for any problems by way of cameras located outside on the surface of the Naan.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary and with her mind at ease, Su’e left the command center on her way to the rest of the station. Before leaving, she paused and spoke, “System: Play ‘Ocean Sunset’ on all station speakers. Quarter volume.” A series of tones followed by the requested music that began to play. She smiled and manually closed the door to the command center careful to ensure the seal of the door was secure.

Su’e headed to engineering at the far end of the station to check all of the equipment operations even though the command center showed nearly everything was functioning nominally. She liked visual confirmation just to be sure. Once there, nearly all readings were in good shape except one, as she expected. She didn’t seem too concerned about it, but simply gave a slight sigh. All the equipment was running well, batteries were at peak charge, and the geothermal equipment looked like it would not fail for many many years in the future.

She headed to the dining hall to get some breakfast and passed the crew and guest quarters along the way. At it’s height, Leo Station housed over three dozen scientists, students and citizens who focused on expanding knowledge for the world of Egom. Most people only stayed for a week or two, serious researchers a few months, but the permanent staff of five stayed for six months at a time to ensure continued operations and station integrity.

She sat alone eating and drinking in the hall that easily housed ten to fifteen people at a time when the station was buzzing with activity. While there, she looked over at a screen and spoke, “System: Play last message received from my daughter.” Again, a few tones were emitted as the music stopped and another series of tones began and were followed by moving images and sounds of a young beautiful woman in her early twenties. Her long dark hair fell across her shoulders onto the rich bright blue material of her blouse. Around her neck, she wore a bright green scarf that nearly matched the vibrant color of her eyes.

“Hey ma-ma! I just wanted to send you this. I know we’re not scheduled to talk until this weekend and you’re probably in a sleep cycle, but I couldn’t wait.”

The woman raised her hands and pulled away the scarf revealing an intricate necklace of polished crystals, stones and wood. At the bottom of the necklace rested two strands forming a knot: the traditional symbol for an engagement. The young woman then screamed in excitement and joy to Su’e on the recording.

A young man poked his head into view smiling, “Hope you’re okay with this, Ma-ma!”

Her daughter kissed the young man on the cheek and turned back to the screen, “Can’t wait to talk to you about all the plans we’ve made…”

Static appeared in the recording and the screen’s colors and image shifted and twisted for a moment and then resolved.

“..and you’ll love the place the we picked…” and then finally the screen went black with a total loss of signal.

Su’e stared at the screen for a moment, a slight smile on her face, but her eyes showed sadness. She sighed, returning to her meal and finished her last bite. As always, she picked up her plates and made sure to wash them and stow them away. As she left, she powered everything down and turned out the lights.

It was time for her to get busy in the library. Su’e went to inspect all the work stations and banks of crystals that stored much of the world’s knowledge accumulated by her people over the past several thousand years. At least up until fourteen and a half cycles of Naan ago. Once she was satisfied that everything was in order, she wandered over to one of the larger screens and took a seat.

“System: Playback log date 3751.15 northern hemisphere.”

The screen flickered into action and showed a beautiful blue and green planet with clouds floating over land and sea. Much was covered with grand glaciers, but where it wasn’t, vast lush green areas of forests and fields spread across all the visible continents.

But it was on this day, fourteen and a half months ago, that the unthinkable happened. Su’e watched it unfold on the recording, just as she had seen upon awakening that day and had forced herself to do every day since then.

On the screen, she watched as Egom slowly rotated in space. Dawn was just hitting the western most coast of her home continent. Suddenly, a burst of light in the northern hemisphere appeared. The light becomes a streak of light for a few seconds before suddenly impacting one of the northern glaciers and becoming a massive explosion on the surface. While horrifying in itself, this moment was followed by three more smaller burst of light that ended in explosions; two more on land and one impacting in the eastern ocean. Each one emitting such an intense flash that the exterior cameras were temporarily blinded. As she watched, she could see the red hot blaze radiating from each point of impact and debris being thrown up miles into the atmosphere. Pressure waves emanated in all directions and she could see the clouds being forced away from the blasts all the way to the equator and beyond. Watching the recording made Su’e hold her breathe every time until she finally gasped for air.

No contact with anyone on Egom had been established since that day and even trying to reach someone using the man-made satellites in orbit for relaying signals yielded no results.

She finished the playback, and made sure to file the recording properly before turning off the monitor and getting up to leave. Su’e left the library shutting down all additional power and lights.

From the library, she went down past the medical bay ensuring all power was turned off there, and headed to the exterior hatch to do an external inspection. She donned a space suit, sleek in design and with a wide vision helmet. After checking her supply of air and ensuring her suit was adequately secure, she equalized the pressure in the room inside the hatch and exited the station.

She walked slowly across the surface of the Naan and rounded to the side where the greenhouse, now dark and cold, was located. She looked up into the night sky to her old home world. The skies were dark over Egom and the once vast green lush lands were blackened. Some fires still burned after all those long monts ago. The coastlines weren’t recognizable any more as the glaciers had nearly all melted. And since nearly eighty percent of the world’s population had lived by the oceans, she was fairly certain that anyone still left in the center of the continents would not have lasted long.

A ring of debris was visible around the planet she once called home creating an amazing banded ring. It was both beautiful and terrible at the same time. She knew she’d never see Egom from the ground again, let alone the sight of the rings from the same perspective. No one was left.

Su’e looked down to the burial mounds where she had buried her fellow crew members over the past months. None of them had been able to deal with the catastrophe or the fact that their days were numbered on the Naan. Each one died by their own hand and own manner and were kind enough to not to do anything too drastic that those remaining would have to clean up. However, someone did need to remove the bodies and bury them. Su’e took it upon herself to give the final rites upon each passing.

As the commander, Su’e knew she would never kill herself. With the others gone, the food and air lasted much longer than they normally would have. However, without replenishing, she had calculated the time remaining, and while not obsessing, she decided to find a way to allow Leo Station to last as long as possible, just in case someone finally did make it back to the Naan.

After changing out of the space suit, Su’e powered down the rest of the station. One thing she knew, from various studies, was that allowing everything to keep running after all the air was gone, without people performing maintenance, could result in an accident that could destroy the facilities. So her next step was to power down all the equipment except the last bit of energy provided by solar and batteries. She left engineering and headed back to her quarters where she picked up an image of her daughter and a pillow before heading up to the command center.

All lights and power were now turned off in the station as she closed and latched the door to the command center. Su’e set the photo of her daughter on the console in front of her and sat down in a chair placing the pillow on her lap.

“System: Record and broadcast to Ground Command,” the system gave a series of tones as always.

“Leo Station to Ground Command. Leo to Ground. This will be the last recording and report from Leo Station, Commander Su’e Inana reporting. It has been fourteen months and fifteen days since the asteroids impacted on Egom and we have never been able to regain contact. While I wish more people had been here on Leo Station to survive the disaster, instead of back on Egom while we were in a maintenance period, we wouldn’t have lasted but a few months. The members of the crew all passed on in their own way and lay interred outside the station.” she paused and reflected.

“I have no idea if anyone will ever get this message, or if anyone will ever reach the Naan again to find what is left here, but my hope is that someone will one day and with no atmosphere here, the facility and all the records will remain and that the technology is easy enough to use for someone to understand. I’ve spent the past fourteen months attempting to find ways for those with different languages to be able to interpret the knowledge stored here. Hopefully some of our technology will survive. I’ve set the station’s system to remain in low power mode, but be triggered by any communications it may pick up. The system will trigger a low power signal back. Hopefully, it will be before all the power drains.”

Su’e picked up her daughter’s image, “Dearest Aribel, I hope you did not suffer and you and your love were together as the asteroids fell. I’m glad you were happy and hope you did not feel much fear.” She set the image down gently.

“If you find this message, this station, or me, know that the disaster that fell upon our world was one that could happen at any time. We focused so much on ourselves, what was happening around us in our daily lives, and what might happen tomorrow, that we forgot to look outside and see what may be coming. Too shortsighted in thinking of the timeline of the universe that we had only just begun.”

“If you find this message, and you have come from Egom, I hope you plan for the future of our world and our children. While this disaster may be the most horrible thing to have ever happened, I am at peace.”

“System: End recording.” A final series of tones indicated that the recording and system were completed.

Su’e pulled the pillow from her lap and laid it on the console. She carefully laid her head down on the pillow with a view of her daughter’s image and a view of Egom through a window. A quick glance at a nearby monitor showed that air would last for approximately two hours more. As she drifted off to sleep for the last time, she held onto her memories of holding Aribel in her arms and watching the sunset over the hills from their home in the hillsides of Egom.

EPILOGUE

Millenia passed.

The debris of thousands of asteroids impacted Naan.

Dust, rocks and debris covered Leo Station from the asteroid impacts and destroyed some of the weaker parts of the structures that still stood.

Egom’s rings disappeared, the debris pulled back into the planet by gravity.

The skies cleared and the glaciers returned for few thousand years and then receded again in a much less disastrous and more natural way.

The system on Leo Station began to falter. Every now and then, it picked up a random signal, something with a pattern, but Su’e had programmed it only respond if more than a few random signals were picked up and within a certain range.

The batteries were failing, no longer being fed by sunlight, and the geothermal energy had long ago stopped working.

And then it happened.

The system picked up a signal.

Strong and local, right on the surface of the Naan. A few key systems powered up in the command center where the body of Su’e still lay entombed. An ancient monitor flickered with a tiny bit of light showing an image of the Naan’s surface coming from some visual feed. Static from barely functioning speakers vibrated against the dust of ages. The images came into focus and a voice came from the speakers for the first time in nearly thirteen thousand years.

“Houston. Tranquilty Base, here. The Eagle has landed.”

© 20016 Eric Huber. Palingenesis is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Artwork by Eric Huber

©2017 Audio recording by Eric Huber. Music from FreeMusicArchive.org.

Audio credits at end of story.

Return to Mayfield

Return to Mayfield

old-scary-library

Chapter I

Visiting Mayfield in the backwoods of Kentucky always brought pleasant memories to mind from my youth. My two sisters would spend hours in the library while my grandparents went about their daily activities. Ms. Cooper was always so helpful and knew just the perfect books for us to read where we could get lost for hours in endless adventures.

After our grandparents passed away, Mom and Dad always took us there each summer to visit our aunt Sarah. She was so cool. She had satellite TV before every home could get cable installed for $99.95 down and $29.95 per month. Speed Racer was my favorite. And there was Ultra Man to protect the world from huge monsters from outer space. Batman and Robin kept disaster from happening when the Joker, Riddler, Penguin or Catwoman plotted their devious plans with their inept henchmen. And, late at night, Aunt Sarah would stay up with me (the oldest) and watch old black and white horror movies… much to the dismay of my mom.

But, it was vacation. And even kids get to break the rules sometimes.

This trip to Mayfield was not as much fun. Maybe it was because we three kids were grown-ups now and taking a summer trip now meant working our asses off before we took vacation time and more when we returned. Plus, making sure the pets are boarded, house in order and enough cash in our pockets to travel, made the entire prospect of a vacation exhausting.

Or maybe it was the fact that this was the first time we’d seen Aunt Sarah in 10 years. Just shortly after our mom had passed away.

Dad came with us, and we brought three cars. Dad had to head back earlier than the rest of us, but wanted to be sure to visit and catch up on old times with family and friends. Mom’s death hadn’t been unexpected, and I suspected dad acted more composed for the rest of us. No doubt his trip home would be time to reflect and grieve properly.

Aunt Sarah was as beautiful as ever and still looked young. Her house was very cool with all sorts of nick nacks to look at, magazines to read and other things to distract someone from their normal lives – even as an adult.

We spent a few days hanging out and catching up. On the third day, the three of us kids went to the Library to visit the previous Ms. Cooper – now Mrs. Bennet. But when we arrived at the library, we found the entire thing being renovated. But, as we arrived, they opened the doors and told us where to find Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet was only 12 years older than me, but when you’re 12, that seems like 100 years. Now in my thirties, the age didn’t seem so vast. She toured us around and even showed us where one of my paintings was going to be hanging. I had completely forgotten I had sent one to the library after graduating from college. A painting of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn floating down the Mississippi on their raft.

The power flickered while construction was going on and we toured the building.

We invited Mrs. Bennet and her husband to come over, but she hemmed and hawed and got uncomfortable when mentioning Aunt Sarah. We let it go and said we’d stop by again before leaving town.

On leaving the library, the sky had grown dark and thunder rumbled in the distance.

When we arrived at Aunt Sarah’s, no one was around. Dad’s car was gone, so we figured they had gone to get food. While standing in the kitchen, drinking some wine, I noticed the backside of Aunt Sarah’s property for the first time. I remembered playing here, but didn’t remember the thicket of bushes before, I also didn’t remember what looked like a small building that now stood there.

I wandered out into the yard and pushed my way through the brambles and soon came upon a door. Shovels, rakes, and other gardening tools were propped up against it, but otherwise it was easy to push my way in. Inside was a room of considerable size for what had looked like a small shed. It was filled with six foot tall racks from which hung huge bulbous sacks about two to three feet across. A weird noise was filling the room. Like water running, but running over branches or rocks. The light switch didn’t work when I flicked it up and down, so I squinted and moved closer to one of the sacks. They appeared wet streaked with brown and white mesh material, and were undulating with the movement of something within them.

Like an idiot, I touched one. The skin of the sack was weak and I pushed right through it getting some sort of gelatinous goo on my hand. Then the whole sack started shifting and moving. Suddenly, small hairy legs started moving out through the hole I had created. Not just a few either. dozens. And then hundreds.

Hundreds of spiders.

Big Spiders.

Being completely terrified of spiders, I yelped and backed out of the room and the building. Those sacks held hundreds of spiders and there were dozens of sacks in the room.

I ran back to the house to get my sisters .

In a short time, we figured out a way to rid poor Aunt Sarah’s shed of these horribly scary pests.

We went back and used a couple of cans of starch and a lighter to ignite the sacks after cutting them down and letting them drop to the floor. My oldest sister and I did the hacking and burning. Our little sister would hit them with the fire extinguisher before it got too bad. We also had a rake and hoe to dispatch the other stragglers. Luckily the roof was high and there was a skylight we had opened to let out the smoke and fumes.

After an hour or two, we cleaned up to surprise our aunt.

Strangely, she was not pleased. She just stared at us blankly and unlike any way we’d seen her before and simply said… “You’ve killed my children.”

Totally confused, we realized Aunt Sarah was completely insane. The glassy look in her eyes revealed the old Aunt Sarah was gone. She walked over to a wall and turned the thermostat down, but instead of the air conditioner kicking on, a panel gave way to show a staircase.

“I’ll be right back.” She said as she walked down the stairs. Her voice echoed from the stairway as she approached the bottom, “You shouldn’t have killed my children.”

Panic set in. We were not in the right place at the right time. I told my sisters to grab their things. We were leaving right away. In moments, we had what we needed and didn’t care if we had forgotten anything. I stayed at the threshold of the door as Aunt Sarah reappeared.

“What’s going on? What are you doing? Where are you going? You’re not leaving yet are you? I wanted to show you something.” she said.

With that, I noticed the huge spiders crawling from over her back, onto her shoulders and down her arms. Plus, she was carrying two smaller version of the sacks I had found in the shed.

“What is that?” I asked as I began slowly backing out of the door.

“The only children I have left. They were hungry, you see.” That’s when I saw the small silhouette of a child inside the brown and white sack. I felt like throwing up.

“We have to go now, Aunt Sarah. I’m sorry about your…children. We thought we were helping.”

Aunt Sarah’s eyes flared. “Helping?!”

She brought the sack up in front of her, her mouth opened wide and razor sharp teeth exploded into view. A raspy guttural sound emanated from her throat and she ripped into the sack with sickening abandon as blood and visceral splattered all around.

I slowly stepped back out of the door, closed it and ran like hell to the car.

Chapter Il

As I drove quickly away from Aunt Sarah’s, the only thing on my mind was, ‘What the hell was going on? What happened to Aunt Sarah?’

I told my sisters what had happened. We stop in at our favorite pancake house that we always eat at, but today, things were different.

We had just been in two days earlier, but now, everything seemed run down. Dirty. Empty. There was a strange odor in the air. The waitress came over to our table, but seemed out of place. Her stockings had fallen, uniform was wrinkled and dirty, and a huge bruise ran along her face from her temple, down her cheek and across her neck.

We placed our order wearily.

We all agreed it was time to get out of town. Thunder continued and rain started to fall. The power flickered. We all looked out the window and saw a bolt of lightning hit the library. Worried for Mrs. Bennett’s safety, we headed over to see if she was okay.

She wasn’t. And when we entered the Library, it had changed as well.

The new construction looked like it had been abandoned years ago. The walls blackened with mold and fungus. The books scattered and torn. We shouted for Mrs. Bennett.

Unlike most horror movies when things get weird, my siblings and I did NOT separate. We searched together and finally found Mrs. Bennette sitting in her office that was rotting around her. Blood ran down the right side of her face as if she had recently received a blow to it.

“Mrs. Bennett? Are you okay?” I asked.

She looked up from the book she was reading… her eyes white and dead. She smiled a rotten toothy smile.

Then the lights went out.

A hissing, guttural sound like Aunt Sarah made came from Mrs. Bennett’s location.

“SHIIIITTTT!” I grabbed my sisters arms and backed out of the room and slammed the door.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON??!!!” My sisters shouted.

The handle turned on the door and we quickly moved away to the other side of the hall.

Mrs. Bennett stepped out looking perfectly fine. “What is WRONG with the three of you?” She asked.

We blinked and stared at each other for a moment. The power came back on and the hallway was perfectly fine.

I grabbed Mrs. Bennett and told her she needed to get out of here because of the storm.

My sisters in the back seat kept cutting their eyes back and forth to me, each other and Mrs. Bennett sitting in the front. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bennett rattled on about the rain and how her sons were probably a little scared since they were young. I tried to tell her about Aunt Sarah, but she acted like she never heard it. Or didn’t want to believe it.

We took her to her house and once inside, her two YOUNG sons were pointing guns at us and looked more like older teenagers. The math wasn’t making sense in my head, but nothing was at this point. Mrs. Bennett calmly put her purse down and patted her boys on the heads.

“What is going on?” my young sister asked. It was becoming a mantra.

“You killed my children, actually, all of our children,” a voice said from the other room, “and murders must be punished, or better – sacrificed.”

It was Aunt Sarah. She looked horrible. The spiders were gone, but her visage was grotesque. She tossed me a cell phone, wet with blood.

It was dads.

“Bobby, take my young neice below. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

I was tense. One gunshot and my life would be over. My sister was just as tense, but she just looked pissed off. Not scared at all.

“You don’t belong here,” Aunt Sarah said, running her mottled hand down my face. It left a burning sensation, “But while you are here, we’ll make good use of you.”

As she headed below and closed the door she mumbled to Mrs. Bennett and her son, “Wait until the screaming stops and then bring them down.”

My sister and I cut looks at each other. ‘Shit.’

I heard another door close below and a strange sound like in the shed started. Muffled. But the same.

Mrs. Bennett prattled on, her son kept a bead on me.

My sister fell to the ground and the son shifted the gun sights. I leaped for him. The gun came loose. My sister grabbed it aiming at Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet just stood there. I grabbed some rope and tied them both up. They didn’t morph into anything evil this time. Just looked at us smiling. It was damned creepy and very peculiar.

We took them outside after finding the door to the basement locked. The wind had picked up and tiles on the roof were being flung loose and had come off. Lawn chairs overturned and something was flapping in the wind nearby.

We made them sit down and tried to find another way down.

That’s when the screaming started. It was coming from below but also from someplace else outside.

I looked around and saw it. A small platform with a stained glass top. Sheets of rubber helped keep it sealed and had come loose, flapping in the wind. I looked at my sister who now was afraid for our little sis and she said, “go.”

I ran for the glass and with a leap crashed through it falling some fifteen feet below.

I shook off the pain raised my gun and let my eyes adjust to the light.

The squirming sound was joined by popping sounds as hundreds of spiders broke through their egg sack and poured into the room I was standing in. I was surrounded by screens that formed a small room, maybe ten foot by ten foot littered with debris and the corners filled with mesh. The spiders stopped before reaching the screen. Further away. behind a glass wall, I saw my sister strapped to a wall. Blood dripping from her wrists and something, some kind of creature attached to her neck and head. Aunt Sarah stepped away from her as well as four other people, three men and a woman. They look terrified. One man stepped through a door and just stared at the hole I had made on the top. He looked upset and the spiders did not bother him.

“Let her go! And get that THING off her.” I pointed the gun towards his face.

The terror left his face and he said, “She will be fine. As you will be. The Alpha and Beta will explain it all to you.” He glanced over my shoulder and a wave of terror swept over me.

I spun around. I wasn’t in a room. I was in a nest.

In the corner, unfolding itself was an impossible creature. It’s body twisted and changed until it stood in front of me a good foot taller and a good hundred pounds heavier. Six arms protruded and it’s head and face were a mix of a spider, human and dinosaur. And then something else moved from another corner. Smaller but more deadly looking.

I started firing.

Scary Spider

Camenae

Camenae

The Muse Calliope

Detail of painting The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet, in which she holds a copy of the Odyssey

Oh ancient, Camenae, bless me with inspiration,
so my creations are not all perspiration.
Though Homer asked for help from you, the Muses,
I ask for those named by Andronicus without excuses.

As I reach to the heavens for topics profound and entertaining,
I tend to blame the lack of time I face from work or just; it’s raining.
On this night in the first month and week of a new year,
I seek your guidance that you’ve given many, without any fear.

Shall I call upon the flourishes of Thalia, the Muse of Comedy?
Or ask Calliope, inspiration of epics? I can’t choose, for the life of me.
Urania could ignite a spark within me for cosmic sci-fi tales blazing,
But for millennia, Melpomene has given writers and singers lyrical phrasing.

Five more Muses there are, the sisters Camenae, to light my creativity.
Which could help me generate unbounded writing activity?
Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore?
Surely one of the nine can change my habits heretofore.

But night falls heavy upon me this day packed full of duty,
I must retire to bed and curl up on this cold night with my cutie.
For even as I struggle to beat my midnight writing deadline,
I still made sure to create something today that was all just mine.

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Transcending Time

Transcending Time

Black Lab

Travis Triplett walked his mutt of a dog four times every day, from his small cottage home tucked back in an early 20th century neighborhood to a nearby park, and dutifully picked up the piles of shit she left behind along the way. He didn’t mind it at all. After five years of this routine, he honestly didn’t even notice that he was doing it anymore as he walked along beside her all while kids and women stopped to admire his black Labrador mutt named Katey.

Katey had shown up one day after a viscous storm had blown through and sat on his door step looking wet, pathetic and hungry and so Travis gave her some scraps of ham that he was going to have to throw away soon anyway. The next morning she wasn’t there. He didn’t even notice her absence until that evening when he arrived home and found her by the front door wagging her tail and greeting him warmly. As he approached to enter his house, after collecting his office papers from his rather plain gray yet sensible hybrid car, he scruffed up the top of her head and said,  “I don’t have any food for you today, dog,” he told the yet unnamed pooch. She just turned her head sideways and kept wagging her tail. Travis stood up and measured this situation with a similar head tilt. “Well, I do need to run to the store. Maybe I’ll get you something while I’m there.”

This went on for a few weeks until finally, as cold weather approached, he did the responsible thing and took the dog to be spayed, tagged and groomed. The vet had informed him that she had already been spayed and he spent the saved money on a rather stylish and slick bright green rhinestone studded collar. He decided to name the dog Katey for no particular reason,  except perhaps her rich black fur color reminded him of his aunt Caty’s hair.

Katey was a funny breed of dog. She barked at odd things and often at new things in her environment. If Travis brought home a box from work, Katey might come around the corner, hunker down and bark menacingly at the intruder. Other times, you could put something new in a room and she never acknowledged it’s existence at all.

Five years of time had passed and Katey had never wavered as being less than a rambunctious dog. She frolicked and played with kids, other dogs and any playful teens at the park that was always busy no matter the time of year or the weather.

On one day, in the late afternoon, as a storm rolled in and the sky turned green with gusts of wind threatening to take down branches, Travis and Katey rushed to get their walk in before a deluge occurred or alerts and sirens start going off interrupting their normal schedule. During storms was about the only time that people avoided the park except for him and Katey. This day was no exception.

Thunder rolled in the distance and Katey dropped her head and ears as well as tucked her tail between her legs looking back at Travis to make sure he was still with her. A moment after Katey dropped her business in the grass,  Travis turned out a doggie bag to pick it up and was ready to dispose of it in a nearby trash bin, when a thunderclap and bolt of lightning struck nearby causing both of them to jump. Katey turned back to the cottage and as Travis began to turn, he saw a wall of wind picking up leaves and debris right towards the two of them. Behind it was a wall of water pouring down and obscuring everything behind it in sight.

They both began to run, but within a moment, the wind caught him causing him to lose balance, spin around and knock him to the ground where he hit his head against the concrete so hard he felt dazed and unsure of what happened. The next moment, as he lay on his back looking towards the sky, buckets of water poured over him causing him to choke and have to sit up. It was so strong that it stung his skin. He sat there not quite sure where he was, water pouring across him, as lightning criss-crossed the sky above him causing such thunderous roars that he was unsure if there was a tornado coming or not.

Suddenly, it stopped.

Travis sat for a moment staring at the ground between his crossed legs where he sat and noticed something red dripping down from his head onto the ground. He reached up carefully and felt a painful and tender spot on his head. He pulled his hand back and found it covered in blood.

After a long while, he finally attempted to stand and noticed he still had Katey’s leash and that she had snapped her rhinestone covered green collar loose. She was no where to be seen. He decided she must have run back home. Slowly he woozily made his way back home as well.

Upon arrival, the first thing he noticed was that his car was no longer in the driveway. “Where the hell is my car?” he said confused. Some relief came, however, when he noticed Katey who sat on his door step looking wet, pathetic and, strangely a little bit hungry. Normally she spotted him a mile away, but this time she stared longingly towards the driveway.

As Travis started to cross the road, he saw his car pulling up into the driveway. “What the hell? Who took my car?”

It was then that Travis watched as a man stepped out of the car. A man that not only looked exactly like Travis, it was Travis.

Travis sat down hard and reached up to touch his still bleeding scalp and watched himself enter the house leaving Katey outside. She had tried to enter the house, a fact Travis now remembered he had quickly closed the door to keep her out five years ago. He looked down at the leash he still held and tried to figure out what was happening. He heard his front door open and watched himself toss some scraps of ham out to Katey who, once again, happily devoured them.

“How is this possible?” he thought as he slowly faded away leaving only a dog leash, collar and a bag of dog shit.

The End of the Story

 

Silicon(e): All Chapters

Silicon(e): All Chapters

Silicon(e) Cover by Eric HuberAll in one place for you to read, chapter by chapter.

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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.